Theatre Information

Be an Actor Not a Performer

By • Dec 2nd, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Irony alert: audiences do not enjoy theatricality when they come to the theatre.

People come to see a story. And in order to enjoy that story, they must be willing and able to ignore the fact that you are an actor performing a role. This cannot be done if with every step, word, expression and stance you appear you came fresh out of conservatory.

Yet you don’t have to have been to a conservatory to know what I mean. You can see these actors coming from a mile away. The way they stand; perfectly square, chin up, eyes at a certain angle. Breathing at precise moments in every sentence. Every syllable enunciated beyond what is needed to be understood. Voice so very obviously trying to project to the back row.

Unless of course they are playing a negative emotion. In which case they stand perfectly square, their chin DOWN, eyes at a certain angle, breathing at precise moments in every sentence…

I of course oversimplify the matter. But unfortunately, not by much. Though what I have described above is a stereotype, if you have been to any live theatre, I am sure you recognize the buffoon I am talking about. You can practically see the gears of theatricality grinding away. And that is the problem. We should not be able to see that you have studied acting. And indeed, I’d rather work with someone without formal training that exuded truth in their role, than someone who has trained for years, yet fails every time to convince me he is anything on stage but an acting student trying to please his absent professor.

Yet it’s not generally the fault of the schools. Many a fine actor has come from acting schools and conservatories. But such actors are great because it isn’t obvious that they studied anything. The audience sees real people and real stories. They see what they have paid to see; drama.

Remember that no matter how much you loved (or hated) your world famous acting coach or professor, no matter how much the exercises in school spoke to you, or the depth of your personal catharsis while studying, an audience doesn’t care. More specifically, it doesn’t want it to be clear in a show. Your schooling is something you purchase so as to be free of theatricality. Don’t forget that.

And that goes for anyone, not just those who went to certain schools. Training is great. Projection, stage presence, intention, are all important things to have. But they should be yours, not the audience’s. Don’t show the world how you have been trained. Don’t simply ape concepts you have seen or learned. Be an actor not a performer.

If you are, people will line up to ASK you where you trained. But more importantly, they will ask you where you will be appearing next.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.